ITV’s football coverage has traditionally been met with groans and mockery. In the last few years however, the broadcaster has upped its game considerably, and now surpasses the BBC’s cliché ridden, bromide spouting Match of the Day threesome of Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer.
For the Champions League match between Man United and Real Madrid, Adrian Chiles hosted a panel of Roy Keane, Lee Dixon and Gareth Southgate. Chiles is pretty universally hated, and his ‘ordinary man’ shtick was on show this game with his sycophantic comment to Keane – ‘we ordinary mortals’ – when asking what playing in a match atmosphere as a player is like.
Keane on the other hand is admirably willing to go against conventional wisdom and speak his mind. Take this too far and you’re just being contrary for the sake of it, but Keane for the most part seems to be just speaking his genuine opinions. His approach stands in stark contrast to the cowardly MOTD approach that avoids stepping on anybody’s toes. Keane began shaky this game, leaving Chiles literally speechless at one point by suggesting the ‘writing is on the wall’ for Wayne Rooney just two minutes into the broadcast, but he improved by the half-time break.
Southgate and Dixon are more about analysis, trying to replicate the success Gary Neville is having over at Sky. Dixon is the better of the two, and his jumping ship from the BBC says a lot about that broadcaster’s current standards.
Much of the pre-match was taken up, as always on ITV, by pointless video montages. Look, if we’re watching the game, you’ve already got us – you don’t need to sell us a product we’ve already bloody bought. It’s exciting, I get it, and you don’t need to force it. Much better was the little interview with Alex Ferguson, explaining why Rooney had been dropped for the game, giving actual insight.
Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend provided the match commentary, and both were predictably mediocre. A good commentator should add to the action on the field. Tyldesley and Townsend just describe what you’re watching most of the time. Townsend does try and offer analysis but I think he’s just not great at reading the game. Tyldesley is, well, type Clive Tyldesley into Google and it suggests ‘Clive Tyldesley annoying.’
The half-time show was lacking in analysis. ITV has a tendency to be overly patriotic and biased, and this was the case with this game. Man United were ‘winning on points’ suggested Chiles, despite Madrid having 60% possession and a goal wrongly chopped off. In ITV’s mind, British teams always win, either actual wins or moral ones.
The end of game punditry was interesting thanks to Keane’s insistence that Nani’s red card was legitimate. Dixon disagreed, and reasonably argued his point from a player’s perspective. How would this go down on MOTD? Four people criticising the referee I expect (and to be fair to Chiles, even he argued the point). Also interesting was Keane’s dismissal of Jose Mourinho’s post-match comments: ‘I think he’s being humble, and I don’t think it suits him’. Keane really adds a lot to these broadcasts, whatever you think of him.
Overall, ITV’s coverage could use more in-depth, intellectual analysis of the game. It’s notable that they have no journalist on the panel. Someone like Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox could add to the debate. But the coverage is decent, and far above its terrestrial rival a few channels over.